An engrossing and timely entry in a promising series.

PANDORA'S RAZOR

HOPE'S WAR BOOK 2

A woman, accused of terrorism to fit her galactic government’s false narrative, fights to clear her name and keep her young family safe in Strong’s SF thriller sequel.

In Home: Interstellar (2015), 20-something Meriel Hope exposed the galaxywide corruption that enabled a bloody ambush aboard the starship Princess10 years before, which left her, her sister Elizabeth, and other children orphaned and traumatized. Now, in the year 2188, both sisters have found some semblance of peace on a rural planet called Haven. Meriel and her partner, John, are loving parents to her stepdaughters, Sandy and Becky. But then the powers that be—including the government of the United Nations of Earth—launch a media campaign to discredit Meriel, including a faked video of her retracting her accusations. The footage triggers Meriel’s painful flashbacks of her experience on the Princessbut also reignites her determination to set the record straight. Meanwhile, tensions run high between Haven’s farmers and newly arrived space refugees. When several people with scarred stomachs are found dead, Meriel immediately suspects that the camp has been infiltrated by the Archers—a quasi-religious group loyal to the Archtrope, who rules from a Vatican-styled palace on the planet Calliope. While Meriel, John, and the girls explore the glittering space station LeHavre, the Archers and their collaborators launch their final attempt to silence Meriel. The fictional universe that Strong has created for this series feels impressively real; the author has clearly put a lot of work into developing its many facets, from its seedy bars to its spirituality to its fictional historical figures. Indeed, readers may sometimes feel overloaded with worldbuilding information—although a glossary is included. Many of these futuristic elements are fun, but Strong also effectively tackles serious topics, such as media bias and bodily autonomy. There are gory moments, which are rare but memorable, and they’ll stick with readers. Additionally, in a genre full of brooding teen protagonists, Meriel is a refreshingly adult heroine, and John, a doting father to his daughters and supportive partner, stands out for his unconventional masculinity.

An engrossing and timely entry in a promising series.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9863599-5-8

Page Count: 502

Publisher: Impulse Fiction

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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